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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2005 Aug 15;206(3):275-87. Epub 2004 Dec 25.

Nickel decreases cellular iron level and converts cytosolic aconitase to iron-regulatory protein 1 in A549 cells.

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Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine, New York University, School of Medicine, 57 Old Forge Road, Tuxedo, NY 10987, USA.


Nickel (Ni) compounds are well-established carcinogens and are known to initiate a hypoxic response in cells via the stabilization and transactivation of hypoxia-inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1alpha). This change may be the consequence of nickel's interference with the function of several Fe(II)-dependent enzymes. In this study, the effects of soluble nickel exposure on cellular iron homeostasis were investigated. Nickel treatment decreased both mitochondrial and cytosolic aconitase (c-aconitase) activity in A549 cells. Cytosolic aconitase was converted to iron-regulatory protein 1, a form critical for the regulation of cellular iron homeostasis. The increased activity of iron-regulatory protein 1 after nickel exposure stabilized and increased transferrin receptor (Tfr) mRNA and antagonized the iron-induced ferritin light chain protein synthesis. The decrease of aconitase activity after nickel treatment reflected neither direct interference with aconitase function nor obstruction of [4Fe-4S] cluster reconstitution by nickel. Exposure of A549 cells to soluble nickel decreased total cellular iron by about 40%, a decrease that likely caused the observed decrease in aconitase activity and the increase of iron-regulatory protein 1 activity. Iron treatment reversed the effect of nickel on cytosolic aconitase and iron-regulatory protein 1. To assess the mechanism for the observed effects, human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells over expressing divalent metal transporter-1 (DMT1) were compared to A549 cells expressing only endogenous transporters for inhibition of iron uptake by nickel. The inhibition data suggest that nickel can enter via DMT1 and compete with iron for entry into the cell. This disturbance of cellular iron homeostasis by nickel may have a great impact on the ability of the cell to regulate a variety of cell functions, as well as create a state of hypoxia in cells under normal oxygen tension. These effects may be very important in how nickel exerts phenotypic selection pressure to convert a normal initiated cell into a cancer cell.

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